Kingdom of Kashi


Kingdom of Kashi
Varanasi ghats.

The Kingdom of Kashi was an independent Bhumihar Brahmin state until 1194, became a British territory in 1775, and became a state in 1911. It is the site of Ramnagar Fort and its museum, which are the repository of the history of the kings of Benares and since the 18th century has been the home of Kashi Naresh.[1] Even today the Kashi Naresh is deeply revered by the people of Benares.[1] He is the religious head and the people of Benares consider him the incarnation of Lord Shiva.[1] He is also the chief cultural patron and an essential part of all religious celebrations.[1]

Contents

History

The Kingdom of Kashi was founded by Khsetravridha, the son of Ayus, of the Somavansa dynasty of Pratishthana. It lost independence in 1194 and was eventually ceded by the Nawab of Oudh to the British in 1775 who recognized Benares as a family dominion. Benares acceded to the status of State in 1911. The ruling family claims descent from the God Shiva and benefited greatly from pilgrimage to Benares.

The governor of Benares gave most of the area currently known as Varanasi to Mansa Ram, a Gautam Bhumihar Brahmin zamindar of Utaria. In 1737 A.D. Balwant Singh, ruler of Utaria, later received territories of Jaunpur, Varanasi and Chunar in 1740 A.D. from Mughal Emperor of Delhi. Thus started the Kingdom of Benaras under the Mughal dynasty. Other places under the kingship of Kashi Naresh were Chandauli, Gyanpur, Chakia, Latifshah, Mirzapur, Nandeshwar, Mint House and Vindhyachal.

With the decline of Mughal Empire, in the area of south of Avadh and in the fertile rice growing areas of Benares, Gorakhpur, Deoria, Ghazipur, Ballia and Bihar and on the fringes of Bengal, the military or Bhumihar Brahmin strengthened their sway.[2] What brought success to the Hindu petty princes was the strong clan organisation on which they rested.[2] There were perhaps as many as 100,000 Bhumihar Brahmin clansmen backing the power of the Benares rajas in what later became the districts of Benares, Gorakhpur and Azamgarh.[2] This proved a decisive advantage when the dynasty faced its rival and a nominal suzerain, the Nawab of Awadh, in the 1750s and the 1760s.[2] It was the capacity of the Benares ruler to mount an exhausting guerrilla war against the Avadh camp using his Brahmin clan levies which forced the Nawab to withdraw his main force.[2]

The kingdom was ceded by the Nawab of Oudh to the British raj in 1775, who recognized Benares as a family dominion. In 1911, it acceded to the status of State.[3] It was given the privilege of 13-gun salute.

According to Orthodox Brahmin traditions, nobody has seen Kashi Naresh have his food, and none of the kings have travelled abroad in keeping with strict Brahmin rules.[4] Kashi Naresh has played host to a list of dignitaries which includes Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, Indira Gandhi, Queen Elizabeth, Nelson Mandela, Dalai Lama, President Kocheril Raman Narayanan and his Burmese wife.[4]

Kashi Naresh

The Kashi Naresh is believed to be a descendent of Lord Shiva. During the religious occasion of Shivratri, the Kashi Naresh is the chief officiating priest and no other priest is allowed entry into the garbhagriha or sanctum sanctorum. It is only after he performs his religious offerings that anyone else is allowed to enter.

The residential place of Naresh is Ramnagar Fort at Ramnagar near Varanasi, which is next to river Ganges.[5] Kashi Naresh holds the title of Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University.[6] This title has as such no executive powers, and all decisions are taken by Vice-Chancellor instead.[citation needed]

On January 28, 1983 the Kashi Vishwanath Temple was taken over by the government of Uttar Pradesh and its management was transferred to a trust with Late Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh, then Kashi Naresh, as President and an executive committee with Divisional Commissioner as Chairman.[7]

Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh was the last Naresh to see kingship after Benares was ceded to the Union of India on 15th of Oct 1948. After his death in 2000, his son Anant Narayan Singh is the Kashi Naresh responsible for upholding the traditional duties of a Kashi Naresh.

History of Ramnagar

The Ramnagar Fort was built by Kashi Naresh Raja Balwant Singh with creamy chunar sandstone in the eighteenth century.[8] It is a typically Mughal style of architecture with carved balconies, open courtyards, and picturesque pavilions.[8]

Ram leela at Ramnagar

When the Dussehra festivities are inaugurated with a colourful pageant Kashi Naresh rides an elephant at the head of the procession.[9] Then, resplendent in silk and brocade, he inaugrates the month long folk theatre of Ramlila at Ramnagar.[9]

The Ramlila is a cycle of plays which recounts the epic story of Lord Rama, as told in Ramcharitmanas, the version of the Ramayana penned by Tulsidas.[9] The plays sponsored by the Maharaja, are performed in Ramnagar every evening for 31 days.[9] On the last day the festivities reach a crescendo as Rama vanquishes the demon king Ravana.[9] Maharaja Udit Narayan Singh started this tradition of staging the Ramleela at Ramnagar in mid-nineteenth century.[9]

Over a million pilgrims arrive annually for the vast processions and performances organized by Kashi Naresh.[10]

All India Kashi raj Trust

Serious work on the Puranas began when the All India Kashiraj Trust was formed under the patronage and guidance of Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh, the Maharaja of Kashi, which, in addition to producing critical editions of the Puranas, also published the journal Puranam.[11]

Saraswati Bhawan at Ramnagar Fort

A rare collection of manuscripts, especially religious writings, is housed in Saraswati Bhawan. It includes a precious handwritten manuscript by Goswami Tulsidas.[12] There are also many books illustrated in the Mughal miniature style, with beautifully designed covers.[12]

Vyasa Temple at Ramnagar

According to a popular Puranic story, when Vyasa failed to get alms in Varanasi he put a curse on the city.[12] Soon after, at a house where Parvati and Shiva had taken human form as householders, Vyasa was so pleased with the alms he received that he forgot his curse.[12] However, because of his bad temper Shiva banished Vyasa from Varanasi.[12] Resolved to be near at hand, Vyasa took his residence on the other side of the Ganges where his temple may still be seen at Ramnagar.[12]

Notes

  1. ^ a b c d Mitra, Swati (2002). Good Earth Varanasi city guide. Eicher Goodearth Limited. pp. 216. ISBN 9788187780045. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Bayly, Christopher Alan (1983). Rulers, Townsmen, and Bazaars: North Indian Society in the Age of British Expansion, 1770-1870. Cambridge University Press. p. 489 (at p 18). ISBN 9780521310543. 
  3. ^ Benares (Princely State) - A Document about Maharajas of Varanasi
  4. ^ a b Mark Manuel. "Nobody's Seen The Gourmet Maharaja Eating!". Upper Crust. Archived from the original on 2007-11-10. http://web.archive.org/web/20071110180121/http://www.uppercrustindia.com/6crust/six/banaras3.htm. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  5. ^ A review of Varanasi
  6. ^ [1] Short biography of Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya. Look under the heading Important Dates.
  7. ^ Official website of Varanasi
  8. ^ a b Mitra, Swati (2002). Good Earth Varanasi city guide. Eicher Goodearth Limited. p. 216. ISBN 9788187780045. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f Mitra, Swati (2002). Good Earth Varanasi city guide. Eicher Goodearth Limited. pp. 216 (at p 126). ISBN 9788187780045. 
  10. ^ Banham, Martin (second edition, 1995). The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. Cambridge University Press. pp. 1247. ISBN 978-0521434379. 
  11. ^ Mittal, Sushil (2004). The Hindu World. Routledge. pp. 657. ISBN 978-0415215275. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f Mitra, Swati (2002). Good Earth Varanasi city guide. Eicher Goodearth Limited. pp. 216 (at p 129). ISBN 9788187780045. 

References

  • Diana L. Eck, Banāras, City of Light, Knopf, 1982.
  • Swati Mitra, Good Earth Varanasi city guide, Eicher Goodearth Limited, 2002, isbn = 9788187780045.
  • Christopher Alan Bayly, Rulers, Townsmen and Bazaars. North Indian Society in the Age of British Expansion, 1780-1870, Cambridge University Press, 1983.

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